Getting Ireland on track for Olympics
By Michael Moynihan
The Olympic Council of Ireland chief executive Stephen Martin is counting down the days to the London Games. Want a flavour of his July?
“That month we’ll have the final team announcement, and on July 10 we get the keys to the Olympic Village, which opens officially on July 16.
“Our main training centre at Lensbury, St Mary’s College in Twickenham, opens on July 18 and the Games themselves start on the July. All of that means a lot of work behind the scenes which people may not see.”
Martin isn’t exaggerating. The throwaway reference to the Olympic Village, for instance, hides a lot of persuasive phone calls.
“We saw the design of the Village, where the townhouses and apartments were, and the sports facilities, but the most critical factor was the size of the village.
“In Beijing, the village was huge and if you think about it, you might have to travel to breakfast and back, to training and back, and to lunch and back, so you could end up spending a lot of time on your feet. So we lobbied to get a place near transport and food in Beijing — and which was near the internet area, which is important for athletes keeping in contact with home.”
The village in London is much smaller, but people still have preferences, says Martin — whether you get those or not is down to lobbying the organisers.
“For instance, you’d have to be cognisant of the other national teams nearby, because some cultures can be slightly noisier than others!
“All of that is in the mix. We’re just back from our final visit there, and on March 31 the village goes into lockdown, and we’ve put our towels out to show where we want to be.”
The proximity of the Games means other issues. What about the bread and butter stuff? The, er, bread and butter?
“Foodwise, we say to athletes that if they have particular foods they want to bring, that’s fine so long as it’s hygienic and stored properly.
“But there’s a massive canteen in the village, where 5,000 people can sit down and eat at any one time.
“There are also international food zones, Asian food zones — and all food is labelled with nutritional values, calories and so on.
“We got the daily menus for the village and passed those on to our nutritionist, but any request can be catered for in the canteen.”
No chance of a greasy fry, though? “Well, a bit of bacon for protein, maybe. McDonald’s is a big sponsor, and it’s noticeable that early in the Games you’ll see athletes going there for the healthy option, or a nice coffee, but as the Games go on and people are finished their event, they start to bypass the healthy option.
“Not everyone will be in the village, of course. Any rowers qualifying will be based out near the rowing venue in the Windsor area. We have five sailors qualified at present but they’ll be down in Weymouth with their team — coaches, psychologist... meteorologist...”
Hang on. They bring their own meteorologist.
“Yes, to look at the wind and all of that. Now, a lot of them will have a lot of experience there, they’ll have been there a few times, but the meteorologist will look at the current data and so on. Wet and cold, I’d say, but the meteorologists will give them a bit more detail.”
There’s an obvious way for the sailors to bring their equipment to the games — think about it — but what about the rest of the gear?
“It’s a lot easier to freight stuff to London than it is to Beijing, obviously. For China you’d have to allow for time, for customs clearance and so on. A lot of the bigger nations had issues in Beijing because they’d send stuff early, but if it was held back in customs, you were under pressure to get your village ready.”
Asics, the official Irish kit sponsor, are working hard to make sure the gear’s ready, but at least tickets shouldn’t be an issue for Irish athletes at these Games — Martin points to sponsors LoCall, who are providing participants with tickets for their families. The OCI has also organised an Irish Olympic House at The Big Chill House near King’s Cross for supporters (“What we find is there are always other nationalities in the Irish house,” says Martin. “They know they’ll have fun there.”)
A gold medallist with Britain’s hockey team in 1988, Martin sees Ireland’s qualification for the Euros as a help to the Olympic effort, incidentally.
“There’ll be a huge amount of interest in sport this summer,” says Martin. “Ireland qualifying for the European championships is quite an advantage, because if they hadn’t, there would have been quite an amount of preempting what was going to happen at the Olympics. There might have been a void which could have been difficult for Olympic sports to cope with, in terms of expectation.
“We’ll have additional coverage, which has been coming through since the start of the year, but it’s a good thing the soccer team are at the Euros, and it’s important they perform well. Then the focus can turn naturally to the Olympics, in a shorter window.
“Obviously the Olympics gives a major opportunity to certain sports a chance to raise their profile in Ireland, sports like gymnastics, thanks to Kieran Behan qualifying, or modern pentathlon after Natasha Coyle qualified in the last fortnight.
“Soccer, rugby, GAA, even hockey — there are games in those sports every week. Most of the Olympic sports go through pre-qualifiers, Grand Prix or World Cup events, or tournaments, but that’s sporadic. Between those they’re preparing for or recovering from those events, so they’re not as visible and there’s less to talk about.”
But the work that’s less visible is being done, and having the venues an hour away is a help. “It’s a first for us in some ways,” says Martin.
“We’ve managed to have our athletes and support staff at 12 test events a year out, trying to replicate what they’ll be doing this summer.
“For instance, our triathletes stayed at Lensbury last year, trained around the area, popped into Hyde Park for the event — which is also where it’s on for the Games — then came back for recovery. Obviously it’ll be busier during the Games, but that way they have an idea of how it’ll look, the routine and so on. Between test events at the venues, world championships and so on, it can feel as if we’ve had the Olympics already, but the final registration meeting is July 10.
“After that myself, Sonia O’Sullivan (chef de mission) and sports director Martin Burke will go to set up the village for the athletes.
“When you sit in the canteen in the village and there are first only two or three people, and then it starts to fill up... you know it’s close.
” So there’s a final date, a final time, on which the team sheet must be sent in. Hope the internet connection’s up to scratch that morning.
“It’s half nine on July 10. We’ll be over there for that.” That’s the end of the work. And the beginning of it. Home